Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Amazon Kindle - Part 1

Author’s Note: This and a future blog post (Amazon Kindle Parts 1 and 2) refer to the Kindle 2. Amazon has just released the Kindle 3 and has stated in press releases that this newest version has text-to-speech enabled menus. Stay tuned for further information on this development in future blog posts.

The Kindle was introduced to replicate the book reading experience on a small handheld device and to that end, the Kindle functions very well. It is slim and lightweight with a 6” screen that is as comfortable to use for reading as a typical magazine or small paperback. The Kindle display has a paper-like quality and is presented in 16-level gray-scale instead of being backlit which makes it amazingly easy on the eyes and reads like real paper without glare, even in bright sunlight.

Beside books, you can load personal documents, such as Microsoft Word Documents and PDF on the Kindle. The newest Kindle version displays PDF documents natively which allows access to a broad range of journal articles and other documents. However, the small screen may not allow the easiest means for reading PDF documents. The Kindle gives you the option of six adjustable font sizes to suit reading preference. The largest should be suitable for some low-vision readers, but the small screen size means that selecting a larger text size will result in more page turning.

The Kindle offers Read-to-Me, a text-to-speech (TTS) option for some books, newspapers, magazines, and other content to be read out loud making content accessible to the low vision, blind and other users. You can choose from three preset reading speeds, the number of words per line, and whether the TTS is a male or female voice. The RealSpeak TTS voices offered are high quality, expressive and natural sounding. However, the fastest reading speed option may not be fast enough for some experienced TTS users. The TTS is also not available for PDF files or for books blocked by the right’s holder or publisher making some documents and books inaccessible to this function.

The Kindle page offers navigation buttons located on both sides of the device for “turning” pages; the buttons are relatively large and can allow for one-handed operability. The device’s menus are navigated using a simple small joystick. When pressed, you can select an item or action and move the on-screen highlight or cursor up, down, left or right. The size of the joystick and navigation buttons may make it difficult for some users who have limitations in movement and dexterity to successfully navigate menus and reading materials. The Kindle lacks any USB slots for connection of peripheral devices such as keyboards, Braille displays and switches nor are there SD slots for various media cards for extra storage of reading materials. Lastly, there is no TTS support for navigation, and thus it is impossible for blind users to independently access menus or navigate through reading materials.

Several universities have shelved the Kindle due to its lack of support for blind students (see For users with mobility and dexterity limitations the size of the Kindle and lack of options for attaching external switches and other supportive AT currently make the device inaccessible and until navigation has TTS support, blind users will not find the Kindle a good choice for an eBook Reader. However, like all technology the Kindle is continuing to evolve and Amazon has publically stated that a future updated version will have additional features, including TTS for navigation controls, making this slick, portable reading device a viable option for many more users.

Alan J. Knue, Manager of Program Operations, WATAP

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